Peace Be With You, Pastor Kinsey
On Wednesday, thousands of people mourned the death of Khanania Dinkha IV, the world leader of the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East – they were attending the funeral of the beloved 79 year old Patriarch, and all dressed in black. All that is, except the pall bearers, who were dressed in white robes, as they carried his casket, shoulder high, out of the church in procession. And as they descended down the steps of the church outside and continued down the street, a choir sang the favorite Assyrian hymn to their Patriarch, “Stay in Peace.”
The Assyrian Church of the East is the same church that grew up in India which was founded by the Apostle Thomas, and is the oldest Christian Church in India. Thomas is believed to have arrived in India in the year 52CE, and was successful in gaining upper-caste Hindu’s as believers and members of his church. In the 4th century, with the controversy over Nestorianism – the belief that there are two persons in Christ and not just two natures, this would eventually lead to a break between the eastern and western churches, even though the Assyrian Church of the East affirmed the western creeds.
Perhaps this controversy, even so many centuries ago, and the fact that these Christian brothers and sisters come from Iraq, Iran and Syria, explains why most of us probably don’t know that the funeral service held for Khanania Dinkha IV, was only a couple miles from here, in Rogers Park, at the St George Church of Rogers Park – on Touhy and Ashland! A bit of a surprise, isn’t it – and much like someone else we know, who showed up in a surprising way to the Disciples in the upper room!
“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you."”
Such a strange greeting, from the one they had all but given up on. They must have been surprised, shocked even, at his sudden appearance! A strange greeting, because they were the ones who had betrayed Jesus to the authorities, which got him arrested only three days before – when, in the garden across the Kidron valley, where they used to meet regularly, Judas escorted a whole detachment of Roman soldiers and police from the Temple, who easily cuffed Jesus and arrested him, and the disciples did nothing – except Peter, who managed to tail the authorities without being detected, until in the courtyard of the High Priest, everyone seemed to recognize him, as one of his disciples, even though Peter repeatedly denied it.
On the cross, a very public form of death and humiliation, meant to deter crimes against the state, Jesus was mostly alone. Even Peter did not bear witness. It was mostly the women followers who kept vigil, and the so-called beloved disciple, possibly John, who were there.
Mary Magdalene, the first to witness the risen Jesus in this gospel account, also went and announced it to these disciples, who were hidden away in fear. They were afraid of the authorities and what they might do to them, if like Peter in the courtyard, they might be identified, and linked to Jesus, who was executed as an enemy of the state. That was a real concern, which was understandable. But it also showed their state of mind, and that they had not yet taken seriously Mary’s announcement that she had seen the risen Lord, and he was about to ascend to his Father and their father, to his God and their God!
Do you think the Disciples even expect Jesus, the risen Lord, to appear, all locked away that night? What do they think he might have said to them, if they saw him? Would they have not expected a good talking to? A dressing-down for their behavior in the garden, the courtyard, and at the cross? How could they face him? What could possibly come from such failure, at this point? To them, the reality of the law, symbolized in the cruel and absoluteness of the cross, and the unforgiving power of the authorities, seemed most immediate, and sent a chill up their spines. In a word –fear! What could a risen Christ do for them? What did that even look like?
“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said – where were you guys?! Couldn‘t you have stood up for the truth, for me?! They might have expected him to say something like that, but no, he said, "Peace be with you"?” Shalom! Salam! Receive the Holy Spirit!
This is more than just a friendly greeting, this is a miraculous gift, that had the power to flip a switch in the minds of the disciples. Expecting punishment, they received forgiveness, combined with the responsibility for a mission (as the father has sent me, so I send you.) Deserving recompense, for their betrayal and abandonment, instead they received grace upon grace. By his presence and forgiving words, Jesus brought home the message of his entire ministry to his disciples, for the first time after the cross and resurrection – a loving demonstration of what was now possible for the whole world. Jesus breaks the endless cycle of retribution, of a tooth for a tooth, and the sacred violence of accepting a convenient scapegoat, because on the cross the innocence of Jesus unveils that lie which comes from the Ruler of this world, and he exposes it’s demonic nature, putting into play the gift of loving forgiveness, that alone is able to transform hearts and minds, without violence, and usher in the promise of the kingdom of God among us. A world that is fearless!
The Peace of Christ reconciles us to this loving grace of God – so that now, just as the Father has sent Jesus, so Jesus the Christ sends us!
Thomas, was away that first Easter evening, when Jesus appeared to the rest of the disciples, and he insisted on seeing Jesus too, before he believed. It doesn’t say where Thomas went to – personally, I think he was out on a Falafel run! But whatever, when he hears he missed Jesus, he goes into his one-up-man-ship mode, and he insists on not only seeing, but touching his wounded hands and side. And exactly one week later, Jesus appears again, though the doors were still shut, and he repeats his post-Easter gift: “Peace be with you,” and Jesus immediately invites Thomas to check out the nail holes, and reach into his side where the spear lanced him. But, Jesus had Thomas at, “Peace” and Thomas is electric with adoration and praise: “My Lord and my God,” he says!
Later, when Thomas set out on his evangelistic ministry, he went the opposite direction of St Paul, riding the trade winds from the Mediterranean through the Red Sea, to the Arabian Sea, and landed in southern India, where he took the Peace of Christ with him. This gift of Peace was beginning to transform the world, the story of the incarnated truth of the crucified and risen Jesus, establishing a new covenant, a new relationship between God and the whole world. Peace that is built on forgiveness, and the realization that we all fall short of the glory of God, and are in need of this forgiveness too, not just as a matter of politeness, but as a weapon of reconciliation, that is stronger, and more humane, than the old hierarchical powers of this world. A peace we can believe in, because it brings justice for all.
This gift always comes as a surprise, when we encounter it, and that is its transforming power. I believe this Peace of Christ, Jesus gave to Thomas, the same Peace that we share, is also connected to the surprise of a Patriarch in exile, who was located right here in Chicago, the head of Thomas’ Church in India – and that it’s no coincidence that their favorite funeral hymn that his followers sang to Khanania Dinkha IV in the streets of Rodgers Park, was, “Stay in Peace.”
Peace be with you!